Tahajjud Prayer (The Night Prayer)
This prayer may be performed as between 2 and 8 rakahs. That is to say, according to the capability, it can be performed as two, four, six or eight rakahs. There is no compulsion like as “it must be absolutely eight rakahs”. As one can perform this prayer at his/her home, so can perform it at suitable places and time, such as at work, at the company etc. where s/he works at night.The tahajjud prayer is a night prayer which is performed by getting up at night after having a sleep a while after isha prayer. It was obligatory upon every Muslim before five daily prescribed prayers became an obligation during the first periods of Islam. And with the event of miraj (The night of the Prophet Muhammads (pbuh) miraculous journey to heaven (the 27th of Rajab)), when the five daily prescribed prayers being obligation has been stabilized, the tahajjud prayer has been changed into a nafila worship (a supererogatory and rewarded worship), yet in order to be a peculiar tradition for prophet, it had become an obligatory worship for only Our Prophet (pbuh). And this is revealed in the chapter of Isra, 79th verse. Since Our Prophet (pbuh) had specific worships on some matters such as charity and alms, there was some worship which was peculiar to him, either. And the tahajjud prayer was one of them.
This prayer may be performed as between 2 and 8 rakahs. That is to say, according to the capability, it can be performed as two, four, six or eight rakahs. There is no compulsion like as it must be absolutely eight rakahs. As one can perform this prayer at his/her home, so can perform it at suitable places and time, such as at work, at the company etc. where s/he works at night.
There are so many narrated hadiths (Our Prophets (pbuh) sayings and deeds) about the virtue of the tahajjud prayer. One of the meanings of a hadith among them is as follows:
When one third of the night remains, every night, Our Lord, Allah, the All-Mighty says as follows till the dawn to break:
Whoever wants me something, I shall give. Whoever supplicates to me, I shall accept his/her pray. Whoever repents, I shall forgive him/her.
The narrator of that hadith Hazrath Ebu Hurayra (may Allah grant him peace) adds the following sentence:
For this reason, the companions of Our Prophet (pbuh) used to prefer performing prayer at the end of the night rather than before the night. (Ibni Mace, Ikamatus-Salat: 182).
Generally, there are so many sound and actual sunnah narrations in the hadith books about reviving the nights with worship. One part of those narrations are generally about the virtue of the night prayers (Muslim, 1163; Tirmizi, 438...) and about Our Prophets performing the night prayers without delay and lengthening every rakah as long as he could (Buhari, Tahajjud; Ebu Davud, 874; Ibn Mace, 897...). And one part is about reviving the midnight with prayers, and another part is about reviving the last part of the night with supplication, prayer and repentance and about the quality of that revive (Buhari, Tahajjud, Tacridi Sarih Tere ve Sherhi, H. No: 590,591, 592, 595...). (For all of the different narrations about Our Prophets night prayers see Tirmizi, Esshemailul Muhammadiyyai p. 221-236; Baqavi, Sherhu Sunnah, IV, p. 3-135).
The bases which are about how, when and how many rakahs Our Prophet (pbuh) used to perform, and a large majority of the narrations concerning actual sunnah has been transferred by Our Prophets wives especially by Hazrath Aisha (may Allah grant her peace).
As an addition to the hadiths about reviving night with prayer, supplication and repentance: According to some scholars, the night prayer was obligatory (fard) for Our Prophet [However, according to the terminology of those except for Hanafis, it was wajip (necessary)> by basing on both the mentioned hadiths and the Quran in which it is clearly understood in many verses (Muzzammil, 1-6; Isra, 79; Zariyat, 17-18;...). And according to other scholars, the night prayer was obligatory both for Our Prophet (pbuh) and all Muslims. Then Muslims had been excepted from that obligation and it stayed as a peculiar worship to Our Prophet (pbuh). According to the Selef scholars, it is claimed that it is still wajip for the Ummah (the community of Our Prophet (pbuh)).
And according to another opinion, it was not obligatory both for Our Prophet (pbuh) and other Muslims; but for Our Prophet (pbuh) it was a nafila prayer which had a more auspicious than other nafila worships and for Ummah, it was a nafila prayer which was an opportunity for redemption and forgiveness. And as a matter of fact, Our Prophet (pbuh) said in a hadith After obligatory prayers the most virtuous prayer is the night prayer. (Muslim, 1163; Tirmidi, 438...). Among those who accept that the night prayer is not obligatory for Ummah but is nafila worship; some of them said that that prayer is mandup (doing a deed which is nice). And some said that it is a muakkad sunnah.
With the deed of getting up at night and performing the night prayer, it is meant the deed of tahajjud which is mentioned in a verse of Isra chapter concerning the subject. The word of tahajjud which can be used as both to sleep and to wake up, after having been used in the Quran with that usage, it, henceforth, has been used as to get up at night and to perform prayer. And thus, one who woke up at night and performed prayer has been started to be called as hajud. Then, as a religious term, it has been started to express the all prayers which are performed in order to revive the night except for fard, wajip and tarawih prayers.
When the tahajjud prayer is performed? Is it just after the isha (night) prayer or after having slept a while? And also with how many rakah is it performed?
About the time of the tahajjud prayer, in the coming narrations, it is advised to revive the midnight or last part of the night with prayer, supplication and repentance. About this subject, in many narrations that tell about actual sunnah, it is stated that Our Prophet (pbuh) after performing the isha prayer used to go to the bad and after having slept a while, towards the midnight or just after the midnight used to get up, then start to worship. After having performed prayer a while used to perform the witr prayer and then the sunnah salath of the fajr prayer. (Muvatta, Salatul-Layl; Buhari, al-Amal fis-Salath, tim, wudu, Cemaa, Sifatis-Salath, Witr...). Since, in some of the narrations there are the statements of Our Prophet used to wake up at night; according to some interpreters, in order to perform the tahajjud prayer, it is a condition that one must go to the bad after performing the isha prayer, that is to say, there must be a sleep between the isha and tahajjud prayer. And according to some, such a condition is not a concern. After isha prayer, till the time of the fajr prayer enters, one may perform the tahajjud prayer. However, on this subject, according to the verbal and actual sunnah coming from Our Prophet (pbuh), it is as follows: Firstly one should perform the isha prayer, then go to the bed to have a sleep, and wake up at midnight or after (after one third of the night) and should perform the tahajjud prayer by extending the time of each rakah if possible, then the witr prayer, and finally the sunnah prayer of the fajr salath.
And in many narrations, Our Prophet (pbuh) commands to perform the witr prayer as the last prayer of the night (Buhari, Witr; Muslim, 751...) or just before the sunnah prayer of the fajr salath (Tirmidi, 467; Ebu Davud, 1436...), and for those who have a fear of not being able to wake up at night, to perform it after the isha salath (Muslim, 755). In that case, it is much more virtuous for those who do not have a fear of not being able to wake up, to have a sleep after the isha salath and to wake up in a certain time of the night then to perform the tahajjud prayer, and after that the witr salath and finally to perform the sunnah salath of the fajr prayer.
Due to so many hadiths been narrated about acceptance of the pray, presence of the hour of acceptance (Muslim, 757) and certainty that it will be accepted (Buhari, Tahajjud, Muvatta, The Quran, 1, 214; Muslim, 758, 2800; Tirmidi, 446...), therefore, one should try to make use of the time elapsed between well by repenting and praying profusely.
There are different narrations concerning with how many rakah did Our Prophet (pbuh) use to perform the night prayers. On this subject, it is understood, especially with the narrations by Hazrath Aisha (may Allah grant her peace) that it was changeable according to the situation of his health (whether standing or sitting). Since Our Prophet used to perform the night prayers adding the witr and the sunnah of fajr salaths, in some narrations which mention about how many rakah our Prophet (pbuh) used to perform the night prayers, there are different opinions. This is because there are different views about how many rakah Our Prophet used to perform the witr salath.
Hazrath Aisha (may Allah grant her peace) narrated that Our Prophet used to perform 13 rakahs together with witr and the sunnah of fajr prayers (except for the sunnah of the fajr salath, it was 11 rakahs) when he was convenient.
And also she narrated that he used to perform longly four of four rakahs, then perform three rakahs (Buhari, Tahajjud, Muvatta, Salatul Layl; Muslim; 738, 736...), and in some narrations, he used to perform as -finishing at every two rakahs (Muslim, 736...)-. And in so many narrations, Our Prophet (pbuh) advises to begin to the tahajjud firstly performing two short rakahs (Muslim, 767, 768; Ebu Davud, 1323...). And in some narrations, tahajjud prayer is mentioned only as two rakahs (Baqavi, IV, 18). And it is narrated that this number lessened to 9 and 7 as he fell from power with the progress of the age of him (Buhari, Tahajjud; Muslim, 738, 746; Ebu Davud, 1362, 1363...).
Accordingly, together with different opinions about details, Islam scholars have a consensus about the tahajjud prayer may be performed between four and eight rakahs. And it is stated that it may be performed as two rakahs.
What should we recite at night prayers?
Our Prophet, used to recite long chapters during qiyam (standing up position in a prayer) at the night prayers. Those were the chapters such as Baqarah, Nisa or Al-Imran. And he used to keep long the rukuh (bowing position in a prayer) and prostrations as well. He used to think about the deep meaning of the verses. Following the prayers, he often used to supplicate concisely, remember Allah, and aplenty used to repent and ask for forgiveness.
Here, the criterion should be as follows: We should choose a recital which we can apply it any time and suitable with our time and potential. However, even if we do not it every time, when we are convenient, we can recite long chapters. For example, as one may recite a short chapter or several verses at every rakah, also s/he may recite a page or the chapters such as Yasin, Fatih, Rahman, Tabarake or Amme.
(For detailed information see the Islam Fiqh Encyclopedia, Prof. Dr. Vehbe Zuhayli)